A couple of days ago, we announced the Seven Skeins Club – a venture we’ve been planning for many months, and which we hope will allow everyone who wants to to sample our lovely new Scottish wool. (If you are interested, you can read more about what the club involves here.)
People have been writing to me with their concerns about availability. Will they miss out on membership if they aren’t sitting by their computers on Friday? Well, we really are hopeful we have enough yarn for everyone. . .
I am hard at work writing and knitting the club patterns, and Mel is knitting too. Some designs will have both plain and colourwork options, so we are making two of everything.
We are also producing a new book especially for club members – Buachaille: at Home in the Highlands. The exciting thing about this tome is that it includes much more than my designs! As well as essays about the landscapes that inspired (and raised) our yarn, Tom has been developing and perfecting some delicious highland recipes. . .
. . . and he and our friend, Gordon Anderson (a qualified mountain leader), have been out and about in the highlands, preparing a beautifully photographed guided walk up Buachaille Etive Mor, the iconic mountain which lends our yarn its name.
We are all enjoying working on this project tremendously! If the Seven Skeins Club is of interest to you, you will be able to join from this Friday, September 18th by purchasing a membership in the shop.
I had some knowledge of most of the manufacturing processes that making my yarn involved, but the process I probably knew least about was dyeing. Like most designers, I love colour, and I am very picky about the shades I use being just right. I had a very clear idea in my head about what I wanted my highland coo shade to look like, but very little idea about how that shade might be translated into a dyed yarn for hand-knitting. Tom and I suggested to Adam that we’d very much like to observe the dyeing process from start to finish and thanks to him, and our wonderful dyers, Harrison Gardner, we were able to do just that.
Harrison Gardner are another great Bradford textile company, based a short drive away from Haworth (we are really pleased that all of the processing of our fibre and yarn was done within a small West-Yorkshire radius). Harrison Gardner are a family company who have been expertly dyeing yarn since 1901. They dye yarn on the hank – a process that is ideal for our requirements, because of the nature of our yarn (high-quality 100% wool), and the consistency of the end result (hank dyeing is in some respects more time consuming and costly, but also allows colour to be absorbed more uniformly than other processes).
At Harrison Gardner we met Jonathan Harrison, co-director with his brother, Daniel, and part of the fourth generation of his family running the company. Jonathan is head of production, and has a refreshingly hands-on approach to all of the processes the company’s involved in, including colour matching, which was one of the things I was most interested in seeing.
I was able to show Jonathan what I wanted my highland-coo shade to look like, and the dye recipe was created by matching my requirements in an incredible machine. The machine generates dye recipes that can accommodate a fascinating number of customer demands and criteria, including cost, fibre type, and colour consistency across a range of different light conditions. These light conditions include daylight, tungsten light, and a wide variety of other artificial point-of-sale lighting methods commonly used by retailers (including the very particular kind of artificial light that is apparently used by Marks and Spencer). Once a colour recipe is created and agreed on, this is tested on a sample of the customer’s yarn in Harrison-Gardner’s dye lab (a neat operation that closely resembles the indie-dyeing workshops or studios many of you will have seen).
Its not just a matter of trusting the colour-testing and recipe-generating methods of the nifty machines – everything is double-checked by eye, and the expert dyers have to be happy with the result. Once they are happy, the recipe is scaled up, and then the fun begins in the large custom-built dye house next door.
This is the dye bath in which my highland coo shade was created! Jonathan explained that they use this particular machine for dyeing quality pure-wool yarns because the action of the wash is comparatively gentle, ensuring that none of the fibres are felted or damaged – even when the temperature in the dye bath is raised to boiling point. My yarn was arranged above the bath in 2 kilo hanks, and prepared for dyeing. Here it is!
The brown-y grey skeins that you can see at the end of the bath are there to offer further protection to my yarn against the swooshing and swirling action of the dye-bath. They are there to take up the flack, and ensure the fibre achieves maximum dye absorption with minimum impact. Keith (an expert dyer who has been working with Harrison Gardner for over 30 years) poured a bucket of highland-coo coloured dye solution into the bath, and then the hanks were lowered in . . .
At this point, as you can imagine, we were extremely excited! Jonathan then took us for lunch in the factory canteen, where we were treated to a superb home-cooked steak pie and peas which we ate outside in the sunshine. After a very pleasant lunch, we were able to return to the dye bath to see how things were doing. Here comes the highland coo!
As you can see, the yarn is very wet indeed, and colour can look very different when the yarn is dry. So to get a proper sense of the shade the yarn had now taken, we had to see a dry sample. Towards the end of the video clip, you can see Keith disappearing with a hank of the yarn that has just emerged from the dye bath. Keith took this hank to a small drying cabinet – very like a hair dryer – in which the yarn was dried. Together with Jonathan, we were then able to check the shade in the colour assessment cabinet (which also mimics a variety of light conditions)
I liked the result, but I did feel that it needed the tiniest amount of adjusting to look completely like the rich and rusty coo-like shade I’d pictured. Jonathan agreed, more dyes were added to the bath, and the yarn went through the process again.
This time the shade was absolutely perfect!
After dyeing is complete, the yarn hanks are dried – first in a sort of giant spin dryer . . .
. . . and afterwards in a specialised hank dryer.
I was particularly intrigued by the hank-dryer and its effect on the yarn we saw going through it . . .
. . .which was noticeably loftier and poofier when it came out than when it went in. Jonathan explained that this loftiness is a very important factor for yarns used in the carpet industry (of which they dye many), as well as yarns for hand knitting. When you see my yarn, the dyed shades have, I think, a slightly poofier handle than the undyed shades – this is a pleasing and natural effect of the hank drying process, and everything evens up in the blocking.
Finally, the dried yarn is wound onto cones . . .
. . . and sent a few miles down the road to the skeiners.
Now for the moment of truth: a finished skein of highland coo!
We had a fascinating day at Harrison Gardner, and we were really impressed with the commitment and interest of the lovely staff, and indeed with everything with saw. Best of all the dyed shades are exactly what I’d dreamt they’d be. It is a truly amazing feeling seeing the colours you’ve pictured in your head imagine become a woolly reality!
Thankyou so much for taking the time to show us the whole process, Jonathan! Tom is still dreaming about that steak pie . . .
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Its time to tell you about my yarn colours! I’ve created seven new shades for Buachaille, and all have been inspired by different aspects of the landscape in which I live and love to walk: its flora, its fauna, and of course its weather.
Here’s what inspired Buchaille’s seven Scottish shades!
1. Highland Coo
These noble beasties are a true highland icon, and I have long been fascinated by the wonderful colours of their coats, which range from the palest caramel, through a deep russet, to a rich moorit brown. As I’m out walking, I frequently find myself picking up scraps and samples of coo hair which have been left behind on trees and fences, and wishing I had enough to spin up . . .I decided that dyeing some yarn was easier than shearing a coo. . . Highland Coo is a rich autumnal rusty-orange colour.
Living in Edinburgh for a decade, one became used to the haar – the cold mist that rolled in across the city from the North Sea. Haar – a particularly lovely Scots word – really captures the quality of Scottish mist: light and chill and softly hanging. Fog and mist lend the highlands their characteristic atmosphere, and make the rich colours of the landscape seem even more brilliant by contrast. Haar is a natural fleece shade, a light and airy silver-grey with lovely variegated tones.
The Western Isles abound with beautiful beaches, and to my mind there are few more beautiful than those on the isle of Islay. Here, enjoying a sunny day above Machir bay, the waves beat across the white sand, and the sea is a glorious shade of blue-green. Buachaille’s evocative and deeply saturated blue-green shade is named for Islay, the queen of the Hebrides.
The green woodpecker is perhaps more often heard than seen due to its call which lends the bird its popular name of “yaffle.” We’ve named one of our yarn shades yaffle after the plumage of this beautiful creature: a luminous and saturated mid-green with yellow tones.
A deep, dark, variegated grey is perhaps the most characteristic colour of the highlands. When I’m out walking close to home, and the sky turns this colour in the west, I can time the minutes to the moment I’m likely to get a soaking. Twenty minutes and counting. . . better get moving. Squall is a natural fleece shade, named for our stormy highland skies.
The ptarmigan is a kind of small grouse. It is a hardy highland bird, that has adapted to, and thrives in some truly challenging mountain conditions. In the summer, the ptarmigan’s brown and buff plumage camouflages it against the rocky landscape, and in the winter, it changes colour to a lovely creamy white, in order to blend in perfectly against the snow. With its beady eyes and fluffy feet, this bird is a real highland character, and Buachaille in its un-dyed, natural state is named for the ptarmigan in its winter plumage.
7. Between Weathers
Between weathers is an expression often heard in Scotland that refers to more than meteorology. Literally, it is that patch of blessed blue sky between one wet and windy front and another. But it also suggests the desire to seize the moment quickly, and to get on with things, when the day is fine. The weather must and will turn, so make haste, and make the most of that blue sky while it lasts. Between weathers is a rich mid-blue, the colour of the sky above Beinn Dorain at the top of the photograph above.
So there’s the palette: Highland Coo; Haar; Islay; Yaffle; Squall; Ptarmigan and Between Weathers. Developing these shades has been one of the most interesting (and heart-in-the-mouth) things I’ve ever done. I have found the process fascinating and am incredibly pleased with the results! In the next post I’ll tell you more about that process . . . and should also be able to show you some actual yarn
For those of you who have questions about the yarn, or who are having trouble pronouncing Buachaille, I’ve created a new FAQ page, which includes lots of sound files to help you!
We had a wonderful day.
We walked across the fields and over the causeway to Eilean Mor
Lucy played “Ho Ro, My Nut Brown Maiden”
Mel read this short piece by Yeats:
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
We made our vows, exchanged our rings, and were married here.
The ceremony was solemn and joyful and deeply moving.
Bruce looked on.
We toasted each other from a quaich given to us by my parents, with a Gaelic blessing.
Mìle fàilte dhuit le d’bhréid,
Fad do ré gun robh thu slàn.
Móran làithean dhuit is sìth,
Le d’mhaitheas is le d’nì bhi fàs.
(A thousand welcomes to you with your marriage kerchief,
may you be healthy all your days.
May you be blessed with long life and peace,
may you grow old with goodness and with riches.)
We are very happy
Thankyou, Mel and Gordon, for sharing our day with us.
Thankyou, Lynn and everyone at the Finlaggan trust for allowing us to marry in this wonderful spot.
Thankyou, Lucy, for piping so beautifully.
Thankyou Sharon, for being such a warm and wonderful registrar. We couldn’t have asked for anyone better to celebrate our marriage.
Thankyou, Isle of Islay. Our favourite place.
Thankyou, all of you, for being there with us in spirit.
Love from Kate and Tom (and Bruce, of course) x
You may remember that last year, my friend and colleague, Jen and I, worked together to produce a pair of designs, which we published as Cross-Country Knitting Volume 1. Volume 1 focused on blokes’ knits, and for Volume 2 we challenged each other to re-design and re-size one of our favourite patterns for kids. I designed Wee Bluebells – a cardiganised version of one of my favourite adult sweaters from my Yokes book, featuring pretty colourwork motifs around the hem and neckline.
. . . and Jen designed Wee Bruton, an unbelievably cute miniaturisation of her Bruton Hoody.
Our aim was to create a pair of really classic patterns – the kind of children’s garments that we could imagine our grandmas knitting for us when we ourselves were small, and which we could imagine ourselves knitting for the wee ones in our lives for years to come.
Together, the designs have an undeniably nostalgic feel, but they are also eminently knittable and wearable.
Wee Bluebells is knit up in 5 shades of Jamieson and Smith 2 ply jumper weight. A quick and simple knit, it is worked completely in the round and then steeked up the middle to create the front opening.
If you have never worked a steek before, this (being small) would be a great project to try out the technique – which really is surprisingly straightforward. (You can read more about steeks by following the links from this page)
Wee Bruton uses Excelana 4 ply, is worked back and forth, features a pair of sturdy pockets, some nifty hood shaping, and fastens neatly with a zip.
Together, these are two easy-to wear cardis that are ideal for romping about in!
Sofia you have met before from the Wowligan photographs, and Toby is Fergus’s son.
We really wanted to show these garments being worn outdoors, by kids in a “natural” rather than a studio environment. It is notoriously difficult to photograph knitwear on little kids and Fergus has done a completely amazing job. Thankyou Fergus! And thankyou Toby and Sofia! We absolutely love these photographs!
In each Cross-Country Knitting booklet, we like to invite someone to write a short essay that speaks to that volume’s theme. For Volume 2, our friend Rachel Atkinson has written a lovely piece exploring the significance of childhood handknits. Jen and Rachel and I all appear in the essay, in knitwear made for us by the women of our family.
Both patterns come in 7 sizes, covering ages 1 to 12. Designing, and thinking about designing, these garments has been such a lovely project for Jen and I, particularly as we revisited our memories of our own childhood knits. We hope you enjoy knitting these patterns, and that they become the source of knitterly memories of your own!
Cross-Country Knitting, Volume 2, is available digitally via Ravelry, or in print via MagCloud.
You can also see more detail of the project, and each pattern, over on the Cross-Country Knitting website.
Hooray! Hooray! Wowligan is here today!
Apparently owl cardigans are much easier to dress a wee one in than owl jumpers and I’ve been asked about the possibility of such a pattern many times. . . one can never have too many owls, so I decided to make it. The Wowligan is basically a mini Owligan, knit up in a sport-weight yarn and carefully resized to baby and kid proportions.
Like the Owligan, Wowligan uses an all-in-one piece circular yoke construction and is knit from the bottom-up. The pattern includes a choice of charted or written instructions for working the cables, and comes with the option of knitting the sleeves flat, or in the round. It is a great pattern for any beginner knitter.
The pattern comes in 8 sizes, from 17 ins to 25 ins, and uses Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino, which is a great yarn for kids garments. In the pattern you’ll also find a schematic and a very detailed sizing table, together with instructions for selecting and knitting the right size.
This sweet and cheery wee soul is Sofia, who is wearing her Wowligan in the fourth size. She was photographed by the very talented Fergus Ford. I’ve recently been working with Ferg on another exciting and, ahem, exceptionally cute project – which I should be able to tell you about next week.
Maybe it is the time of year or something – everything in the landscape seems so scoured out and colourless – but I find myself on a massive orange kick. And what better orange could there possibly be than this?
The yarn is Bulky lopi in shade 1418 – “carrot tweed”. Such a rich, deep firey shade! So carroty, so very, very . . . orange! The Icelandic wool so thick, so warm! The tweedy neps so nubbly and so pleasing! I just had to knit myself another Owligan.
I knit this Owligan a little shorter – around 14 inches to the underarm. Making the first size, I used just under seven skeins of yarn. Because of the tweedy nature of the lopi, the finished garment has a rather rustic feel – which is quite different to my other versions of this cardigan.
My orange Owligan is the ultimate antitdote to a grey February day and I absolutely love it.
It is Ravelled here.
One of the most frequent requests I receive by email is to help knitters ‘translate’ my owls pullover design into a cardigan.
This is not as straightforward as it sounds. The owls pullover was designed to be a tightly-fitting garment, with negative ease and back shaping (which would sit rather oddly as a cardigan). The pullover is worked in the round (while a cardigan is generally worked back and forth) and this has implications for the way the owl cables are charted and rendered. Additionally, the owl cables are not centred around a front opening (as they would need to be to accommodate the button bands).
So I have designed the Owligan.
This is a very straightforward pattern, knit up in super-bulky yarn at 2.5 sts to the inch. The pattern is ideal for a beginner knitter, and comes with a number of different options to accommodate different skills and requirements. The sleeves can be knit flat, or in the round; the owl cables can be worked from a chart or from written instructions; and the body can be worked to two different lengths. The short length is shown above (worked in New Lanark Chunky with the yarn held double) and the longer length is shown below (worked in TOFT Ulysses chunky, which really is a super super bulky yarn!).
Unlike the owls pullover, the Owligan is designed to be worn with quite a bit of positive ease. I’m wearing both the long and short versions of the garment with 6 ins positive ease in these photographs. The pattern is graded in seven sizes, to fit bust measurements of 30 to 55 ins.
The two yarns I’ve used for these samples are very different. TOFT Ulysses chunky is a smooth, worsted spun yarn which is soft both to knit and wear. It is a beautiful, special and very luxurious yarn – and its price reflects this. New Lanark chunky is a woollen spun yarn with a much more rustic feel. While it is certainly not as soft to knit as the TOFT, the yarn relaxes, expands and blooms considerably after washing (so be sure to always wash your swatch!). Its a great everyday yarn that’s very reasonably priced, and knits up into a wonderfully woolly and robust garment.
If you have previously purchased the owls or owlet patterns, the Owligan pattern can be yours for half price. Simply put the Owligan in your Ravelry basket, then enter the code OWL50% (for owls pattern) or OWLET50% (for owlet pattern) and the discount will be applied when you checkout. (Note: if you received either pattern as a gift or freebie, I’m afraid there is no discount as there’s no previous purchase). But if you have previously purchased one of the aforementioned patterns, however long ago that was, the discount will be applied, and the Owligan will be half price.
The Owligan is not only a super-speedy knit, but is also wonderfully wearable – particularly in the current weather! Mel and I have become a little obsessed with knitting Owligan samples – so you might see another couple, worked up in different yarns, popping up here over the next few weeks. . .
Thanks so much for your comments on the previous post, which mean an awful lot to me. I’ve a wee bit more to say about my recovery, and will do so in the next post.
Skein Queen has also been very busy preparing yarn bundles for these mittens. The yarn – Voluptuous Skinny – is a lovely plump, woolly 4 ply. It is spun up by John Arbon, and composed of 80% Exmoor Blue and 20% organic merino. The yarn is just ideal for a pair of colourwork mittens – the stranding creates a fabric that’s dense and warm, soft and springy. The pattern includes instructions for two sizes of mitten, small and large, and each Skein Queen yarn bundle will include more than enough yarn to knit the largest size.
I’ve also put together a time-limited promotion for those who want to make Jazz Hands to match their Epistropheids. If you purchase both patterns on Ravelry, using the code HEIDANDHANDS you will receive 40% off your total – that’s both patterns for £3.95. Please be sure to add both patterns to your Ravelry cart (using the ‘add to cart’ option) before entering the code or the system won’t apply the discount. Previous Epistropheid purchases should also count toward the promotion – if you encounter any problems please do let me know.
I’ve been enjoying the snowy weather and have been wearing my Jazz Hands pretty constantly since the cold snap started – my hands have been toasty warm!
Well, I’ve showed you all the designs in the collection, and it is now time for me to enter logistics world. This is a world of franking machines, books, and cardboard boxes and though it is, in its own way, interesting and absorbing, it does not make for particularly fascinating reading. So things may go rather quiet here for a couple of weeks while I am packing and shipping your orders.
I confess that right now I am feeling rather humbled by your support of, and interest in, this book. A massive THANKS to all of you.
If you would like to learn more about Yokes, the book now has its own information page here. For those of you who are interested in the essays and conversations, you’ll find some detail here about the book’s contents. There’s also a link for easy download of your digital copy (just enter the code when your book arrives); links back to information about each design, and a checklist of the design elements and techniques that each pattern involves (which may be useful when considering what to knit).
Thankyou so much, and see you on the other side xxx